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What Is a Duvet Insert?

By Tracey Sandilands
Updated May 16, 2024
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Down comforters, originally made from large, cloth bags filled with bird feathers, have kept sleepers warm for centuries. Called a duvet in Europe and Canada, the down comforter is referred to commonly as a duvet insert by Americans. The duvet insert is a modern version of the eiderdown, which was a quilt made exclusively from the feathers of the eider duck. The insert is a favorite item of bedding in many parts of the world, and the design has come a long way since its early days.

The duvet insert has its roots in rural Europe, where the long cold winters were tolerated by sleeping between two of the feather quilts. At that time, the feathers used came from any type of bird, but as time passed people realized that the down from the eider duck had exceptional insulation qualities. This became the preferred type of filling for the quilts, which became known simply as "eiderdowns." Eider down is plucked from the breast of the female duck to line the nest for her young, and is now harvested only once the ducklings abandon the nest.

A common form of bedding, especially in Europe, duvets form the basis of the bedroom linen in a vast number of homes. The duvet insert is usually plain white in color, and is used within a duvet cover that matches the color palette of the bedroom and the sheets. Duvet inserts are available in a number of standard sizes to fit the different bed models, and duvet covers sell in sets with matching linen.

No longer just a large bag filled with feathers, duvet inserts now consist of a box stitched system of cloth or “ticking” boxes separated from each other by a series of interior fabric or baffle walls. This prevents the settling of the down in one part of the insert, leaving some areas warm while others are cold. A limited quantity of filling in each box allows the down to loft to its full height, trapping the air between the feathers for maximum warmth and insulation.

Summer weight, various winter weights, Hungarian, Canadian and Polish goose down are just a few of the many types of duvet inserts available. Top of the range, expensive duvets made from eider duck down are available at bedding stores. All duvet inserts are sold according to their “tog” value, which is a standard industry term for measuring the thermal resistance. A summer weight duvet insert has a tog rating of around 4.5, while a winter weight duvet insert might carry a tog rating of between 11 and 13.5.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Mar 24, 2014

@browncoat - I go with the cheapest kind of insert because I can't afford a lot of expensive bedding at the moment and it works just fine. I'd rather spend a bit more on sheets that are actually going to come into contact with my skin. If the duvet keeps me warm enough then it's doing the job, so why pay more?

By browncoat — On Mar 24, 2014

@umbra21 - Well, if you were really determined to have a feather duvet, I'm sure there are hypoallergenic options. Usually that allergy is more from dust mites and if you have treated bedding that doesn't let dust mites into it, then it should be OK.

But I don't think that there is all that much advantage in having feathers anyway. I'd rather have a material that can be washed, because there's always going to be an accident at some point, particularly if you have kids, and you don't want to completely ruin an expensive duvet because someone spilled their orange juice during breakfast in bed.

Unless you live in a place with extremely cold weather and no central heating you aren't really going to need super insulation properties anyway.

By umbra21 — On Mar 23, 2014

I like the idea of having a duvet insert made from feathers and I'm sure it would be very warm, but I'm so allergic to dust I would never actually try it.

It's not so much that I would have a problem with the feathers themselves (although that's a possibility). It's more that I have heard there's no real way to clean the feathers without ruining the insert. That's why it is made to have a cover, which is the part that comes into contact with the outside world and can be easily cleaned. The feathers would still pick up dust, though, and would probably make my nights miserable.

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